Developer: Platinum Games
Release: Q4 2009
Hideki Kamiya's creative direction has inspired gamers and turned the tables on expectations with offerings such as Viewtiful Joe, Resident Evil, and Devil May Cry during his stay at Capcom's wonder factory. At Clover, his talents would paint a fantasy masterpiece through the cel-shaded artistry of Okami's gameplay. At Platinum Games and with Sega, he intends to do the same thing with Bayonetta. A playable demo was on the floor at E3, and Kamiya, along with producer Yusuke Hashimoto, were kindly on hand to discuss the game.
The story centers around Bayonetta, a witch who has been asleep for hundreds years and has been mysteriously awakened to discover that she has no memories of her past. In trying to rediscover her missing history, the player will find himself fighting his way through archangels and massive mini-bosses whose incredible sizes make Devil May Cry's Mundus seem like a speed bump.
One of the first things that I thought of when I first saw Bayonetta in action was that this was Devil May Cry, but with a heroine dressed in a black, skin-tight costume, instead of a trench coat-wearing, dual-wielding, sword-slashing hero. There are many similarities between the two, but the distinct differences are what make Bayonetta stand out from Kamiya's previous devil-slaying masterpiece, which was an assault on the senses and sensibility.
In playing through the demo and from the closed door presentation of the game, one thing is abundantly clear: Bayonetta has absolutely no problems with confidence in her game. Mari Shimazaki's bold design comes to life on-screen with fluidly animated movements accentuating the fact that her costume is made up of her own hair, albeit magically enhanced to provide appropriate cover for most of the game until she needs to crush the bones of the massive monster who gets in her way. Darkstalker's Morrigan would have been proud.
The demo allowed players to sample a tutorial to get them up to speed with the combat system. The Xbox 360's controls felt well suited in making a button-masher like myself feel like a professional monster hunter. Dodging with the right trigger proved to be easy, but triggering "witch time" was a little trickier. Timing your dodge to coincide in ducking away from the swinging arc of a scythe at the last second would activate a short bullet-time mode, slowing foes and allowing Bayonetta to wreak untold havoc with any combo that the player can pull off while it lasted. It also appears that every move is available to the player's skill at the outset, as there are no upgrade paths like we'd seen in DMC.
The demo started off with a cinematic in which Bayonetta was shown taking a trip on a train to the city of Vigrid, the City of Deja Vu, where she quickly made the acquaintance of heaven-sent emissaries that wanted to take her out. Loading screens allow the player to practice moves, and a list of scrolling combos is shown on the right to help the player. Her attacks are as every bit as outrageous as her appearance, with everything from summoned torture devices capping off completed combos to stiletto-heeled stomp attacks emerging from purple portals torn in the air.
Weapons dropped by Bayonetta's enemies can also be picked up and used for limited time before they were exhausted, as was the case with an angelic trumpet that also doubled as a shotgun. It also appears that weapons will unlock additional moves. For example, picking up a poleax used by one of the archangel enemies allowed Bayonetta to unleash a spinning move as she spun around it while her feet kicked the snot out of her enemies. Aside from being an automated sequence, I had some control as to which direction I wanted to start swinging toward, laying out enemies by the truckload as they rushed her. Another weapon was a gigantic battle-ax the size of a bus, dropped by the first mini-boss in the demo, which I had Bayonetta kick up into the air to chop down more of her enemies with combos.
Quick Time Events also act as surprises at key moments, such as when I had beaten a mini-boss down to the point where I finished it off with something called a Climax. By hitting the correct buttons and then mashing them, you could unleash a torrent of damage, adding to your score and annihilating the beast in dramatically satisfying fashion. At the end of the sequence, Bayonetta struck a pose as her hair unraveled, tastefully covering up part of her backside and her back, while the camera quickly panned over to show the strands forming the head of a giant, draconic head that used the battered monster as a crunchy chew toy.
Unfortunately, I wasn't so lucky with the second boss, who clambered up the side of a cavernous shaft to attack me while I was crossing a white, cobblestone bridge spanning it. After taking so much damage from her default gun, sword and kick moves, it tore the bridge from its foundation and threw it with only seconds remaining for Bayonetta to leap to safety via QTE. I didn't make it the first time, but after surviving, found that the mini-boss stubbornly refused to die as it continued to crawl after me — until I was able to trigger the Climax attack.
At the end of the demo, Bayonetta seemed to discover one of her memories via another cut scene as she found a girl wearing black-rimmed glasses within the shadows of a gothic cathedral. More of the story was revealed — something about an outcast and a coming-of-age scene where another femme fatale demanded that she fight her — right before a battle began that was significantly more challenging than what she had faced before. This battle would also introduce "witch walking," where I was able to defy gravity by running along walls and ceilings in the chamber where the fight took place, adding a new dimension to what might have been just another straight-up boss battle. That was the end of the demo.
However, where the floor demo left off, Sega's closed-door session would continue with another stage showing Bayonetta running along the sides of rustic buildings lining a street filled with a rushing torrent of lava. Floating, broken stones formed pathways across this burning river where a cresting wave of fiery death relentlessly pushed Bayonetta ahead. This sequence ended with her climbing the side of a tall clock tower that had broken in half and begin falling until she had managed to get away.
At this point, another scene would play out and introduce the next boss: a titanic, two-headed dragon that wears a cavernous, gray-bricked room around one of its heads as it flies into the air high above the destruction. Bayonetta was about as large as one of its fangs as she stood in that room, just to give you an idea of the scale and magnitude, and at that point, the demo ended, leaving us wanting more.
A brief Q&A followed in which it was revealed that the game was built completely from scratch and that there would be no DLC. The explanation, according to producer Yusuke Hashimoto, was that they didn't want to leave the impression that the game had any "cut corners." Everything that they wanted in the game is in the game, with no compromises or shortcuts. It's all there ... almost. Expect no Japanese-only language track to accompany the game, either in Japan or as an extra track elsewhere. As we were told, the vocals will be in English and this was intentional for the characters, although I expect the interface and subtitles will be in your language of choice.
It was also explained that each stage of the game, such as the city of Vigrid that we had seen, is divided into several chapters, although they didn't mention just how many of them there were. At the end of each one, the player's performance is evaluated and his score is tallied up; an award will be given out as a grade, depending on how well he's purged the world of spiritual foes. There are also a variety of unlockables, although the devs weren't ready to reveal any of them yet, but they did indicate that additional playthroughs and scoring milestones would play a part.
Bayonetta's striking action aesthetics and sexy confidence are sure to challenge players' perceptions, perhaps in the same way that Kamiya and his teams had already tested them with Viewtiful Joe and Okami. From everything that I've experienced with the game so far, Sega will undoubtedly make a unique splash on both the PS3 and Xbox 360 when Bayonetta finally comes out to play.
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